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Head of Oracle Inquiry Ousted as Panel's Chairman

Politics: Assemblyman says he is being punished for his aggressive probe. But speaker says it was because he failed to vote on auto-emissions bill.

July 03, 2002|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO -- The lawmaker who headed the inquiry into the state's botched software deal with Oracle Corp. was dumped from his committee chairmanship Tuesday by Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson.

Assemblyman Dean Florez (D-Shafter) said Wesson called him into the speaker's office and informed him he was losing the post on the Joint Legislative Audit Committee for an irresponsible act: failing to stick around a day earlier to vote on a controversial bill to regulate auto emissions of greenhouse gases.

But Florez said he felt he was being punished for something else: leading an aggressive probe into the political and bureaucratic acts that led to the state approving the $95-million Oracle pact without competitive bidding.

The hearings, he said, made him unpopular with some Democratic lawmakers and may have led to complaints from Gov. Gray Davis' administration.

A Sunday opinion piece Florez penned for the Sacramento Bee that carried the headline "Is Capitol for sale to highest bidder?" may have been the final straw, he said.

"Absolutely, it was Oracle, no doubt," Florez said. "It seems to me more like payback for Oracle than anything."

Wesson (D-Culver City) declined to discuss the Florez demotion, and a spokesman described it as "an internal matter."

But a source close to the speaker stressed that the decision had "absolutely nothing" to do with the Oracle hearings.

The move, the source said, was not based on Florez's refusal to support the emissions measure.

Rather, it was based on his refusal to fulfill his duties as a member of the speaker's leadership team by staying for the vote and helping defeat Republican attempts to overturn it.

The emissions bill by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) passed by a 41-30 vote and awaits the governor's signature.

The bill, which would make California the first state to regulate tailpipe emissions of gases suspected of causing global warming, was a top priority for Wesson and other Democrats.

Florez said that he was not a supporter of the bill and had voted against an earlier version.

Rather than stay to do the same again Monday, he said, he took a charter flight home to watch his 11-year-old son play in a Little League game.

If he was bounced from a committee for failing to vote for the emissions bill, Florez said, that's even less ethical than the Oracle debacle.

"I didn't know chairmanships were being traded for votes," he said.

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